Our AFL experts tackle some of the burning questions ahead of Round 17.
Has West Coast's premiership window slammed shut?
Rohan Connolly: As much as I respect the Eagles' talent, yes, I think it has. They have the third-oldest list, eight players in their 30s and another four turning 30 in the next year. All are among their best players and aren't going to get any better. There's not nearly that many in younger age brackets as good or reaching the same level. Secondly, their game style, but for a brief, important window late in 2018, has continued to fall short in the key tougher areas of contested ball, tackles and stoppages that are invariably key to success in September.
Jake Michaels: It seems crazy saying this after the weekend's horror show but I still believe the Eagles are a team that can challenge for the next couple of flags. I'm not sure there's a side in the league which has more A-grade players than West Coast, they've just seemed to lose their way over the last year or so. Would I be surprised if at some stage it all clicked again? Absolutely not. My guess is it won't happen this year, but I'll still expect them to be around the top four in 2022.
Matt Walsh: This is the last year for them I fear, and if they make finals (which I think they still will, given their run home), they'll be on the road in an elimination final. That's as good as a shut window. Eight of their best 10 players are 29 or older (with many of those over 30), and we know that it's tough on the body to travel every second week for 26 weeks a year. I anticipate a sharp dropoff in the next season or two.
Jarryd Barca: Slammed might be too strong a word, but they've certainly underachieved when you look at their talent on paper. They're being torn apart on the road, again, they have an ageing list with stars well into the twilight of their careers, and they haven't selected a first round draft pick since Jarrod Brander in 2017. So for a team that clearly put all their eggs into the 2020/21 basket, and still can't win away from home, I'm confident in saying West Coast's premiership window is closing. They're no certainty for this year's top eight, either, despite it seeming a 'soft' run home.
Do the Demons have what it takes to go all the way in 2021?
RC: You'd be silly to say no given their ladder position and performance across the year. But it's going to be a lot tougher unless they sort their forward issues out pronto. They're only seventh for points scored, and more significantly, just 15th for scores per inside 50 over the last month. Tom McDonald, with occasional contributions from a resting ruckman in Max Gawn or Luke Jackson, isn't going to cut it. Either Ben Brown or Sam Weideman simply has to step up or they simply aren't going to have enough firepower.
JM: Call me crazy (or just a hater) but I'm still not quite sold on the Demons. There's no denying the quality across the park but I just wonder if the drop off is too stark. For years we spoke about Geelong's bottom six being their Achilles heal, and I think it's a similar story here for Melbourne. Sure Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver and Max Gawn will deliver when it matters, but will the likes of Tom Sparrow, Charlie Spargo and Jayden Hunt be able to provide enough? I'm not convinced.
MW: I think they do, but there are some significant issues to work out. Their defence is solid and imposing and their midfield is chock full of talent, but it's in the forward line where things break down. Last year they were the No. 1 side for inside 50s but couldn't convert them into scores, and it's again proving an issue. McDonald had a great start to the season but has dropped away in the last month, Bayley Fritsch continues to impress, but there's no real key forward option. Brown isn't getting a game and Weideman can't translate strong VFL form when he gets called up. Grand Finals aren't always 'high scoring' affairs though, so maybe they're a chance...
JB: They have extraordinary depth in all areas of the field so that no doubt holds the Dees in good stead once September comes, but my concern is it's now Round 17, and they still don't know what their best team looks like inside 50. No team has conceded less points than Melbourne this season and Steven May and Jake Lever have welded themselves as a serious one-two punch on the opposition each week, so their defence gets a big tick. They're also top three in the league for crucial areas such as contested possessions and inside 50s, but translating that into scoreboard pressure is the challenge, particularly when they come up against the teams around them that evidently possess more firepower. For goodness' sake, Goody, get Brown into the team!
Which team has the widest gap between their best and worst?
RC: A few contenders here. I'd have to say Gold Coast, though, particularly after knocking off Richmond last week. A great performance, but just a couple of weeks prior they'd turned in arguably their lamest efforts of the season against a half-strength Fremantle, then managed just four goals in perfect conditions against Port Adelaide. The Suns rolled Sydney with ease earlier this season, too, but on their worst days, they're still barely competitive.
JM: West Coast. No doubt about it. The Eagles' best is frightening and good enough to beat anyone in the competition, but their worst (basically what we witnessed this week) is an utter disgrace which could easily see you mistake them as the league's bottom side. This gap must be infuriating to West Coast fans.
MW: The obvious answer is the Eagles, but I floated the Giants last week and have seen the best and worst of Carlton in the space of the same game. But the Eagles' numbers are damning - and on a consistent basis! Just listen to what Champion Data's Christian Joly had to say on the podcast this week.
JB: There are a few culprits here; we've seen St Kilda hold the reigning premiers to their lowest score in 60 years, and then get belted by 111 points to the top team and cough up a 36-point lead against Adelaide; we've seen both a fussy Carlton and Collingwood choose during games when they feel like playing to a high standard; and we've seen the damaging-when-on West Coast get crushed by more than 50 points three times this season. Eagles by a nose.
Do you like Monday night football?
RC: No. A big no. There's good reasons it was abandoned as a concept a few years back. The crowds didn't come. But it's also about ruling a line under one round in one week, and not having it spill over into the next. Thursday night is clearly popular and fits those parameters. Monday night just seems to turn the schedule into a never-ending slog where one round is barely distinguishable from the next.
JM: See, I don't hate it that much. I'm all for spreading the games out more, as watching five on a Saturday can get a bit intense! But if you're asking me to pick between Monday and Thursday night football, the Thursday slot wins hand down.
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MW: I don't think there's room for both Thursday night football and Monday night football in any given week. It means five straight days of footy which throws into chaos recoveries, fixturing and just general 'down time' from footy for players, fans, administrators, and the media. One or the other - I'm not fussed which one!
JB: I enjoy it on the special occasions -- Easter Monday and Anzac Eve, for example -- but I don't think it should become a consistent part of the AFL fixture. All for Thursday night footy, but Mondays need to represent the beginning of a new round, not the end of a previous one. Plus, large crowds will never be sustainable.